Roughly six weeks before the Fourth of July in 2021, Howard County decided to bring back the holiday fireworks.

It was a year after the pandemic had canceled the annual fireworks show in Columbia. But for Dennis Mattey, then the vice president of community operations for Columbia Association, that wasn’t enough.

“I said, ‘We can’t just do that. We have to do more than that,’” Mattey, the interim CEO and president of the association, recalled during a recent interview in his office.

And so, Mattey got to work. The association arranged for food trucks and music, and the organization’s open space team prepped the lakefront for the big event.

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“We didn’t know how it was going to go,” Mattey said, adding that he didn’t quite fathom how difficult it would be to pull the event together.

He remembers giving a brief introduction on the stage. As he spoke, Mattey looked out at a gathering of some 10,000 people. He saw kids, parents, people of all ages, races and ethnicities. It represented what Columbia is all about, he thought: welcoming everyone in an inclusive, diverse community.

“That was really a moment in my life. You’re going to have moments and that was an ‘Oh my God moment,’ like this really worked,” Mattey said.

The Columbia Association on May 21, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Mattey is retiring on June 14 after a five-decade-long career with the Columbia Association that has seen him rise from part-time lifeguard to interim CEO and president. The planned community was founded in 1967 by James Rouse — the pioneering developer and planner who also built Baltimore’s Harborplace — and the Howard Research and Development company.

Columbia Association has been without a full-time president and CEO since Lakey Boyd’s abrupt departure amid tensions with the board in January 2023. The association is a homeowners group that functions in many ways like a city government.

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Serving as interim CEO and president was not something that Mattey ever expected, but it has been a nice way to cap off his career.

“I’ve done so many different things and it’s been such a great opportunity,” Mattey said. “I’ve met so many great people here and what’s remarkable about working here is the people are so committed to the work that they do.”

The Columbia Association board recently announced that it had selected Shawn MacInnes, the town administrator of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to serve as permanent CEO and president of the community of about 105,000 residents. He begins his tenure on June 17. MacInnes started his career as an engineer with the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Pat O’Malley, who worked as CA’s director of purchasing from 1999 through his retirement in April, worked closely with Mattey during his tenure.

“He did an excellent job [as the interim CEO and president]. He made sure we continued to move forward with all of our programs so that when the next CEO comes on board, it will be as smooth a transition as possible,” O’Malley said.

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Mattey has worked for every single Columbia Association CEO and president. Not many can say that.

He was born in Washington, D.C., and then lived in Glen Burnie, Catonsville and eventually Howard County. He graduated from Mount Hebron High School.

During his first summer in Howard County, Mattey was looking for a job. He knew he would have to pay his way through college, so he started out as a part-time lifeguard for the CA’s Columbia Swim Center.

Mattey went on to serve as manager of the Swim Center, and then director of aquatics. During his initial years with CA, he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland.

“CA has great education benefits,” Mattey said. “So I actually went to school full-time and worked full-time.” He eventually also earned his graduate degree from the Johns Hopkins University.

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Mattey also worked as the project manager for several outdoor pools, the construction of the Supreme Sports Club and Columbia Gym.

Dennis Mattey, the Columbia Association’s interim CEO and president, smiles for a portrait at the Columbia Lakefront on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Mattey often traveled to get ideas for the construction projects that he oversaw. He went to Denver, South Dakota and British Columbia to study waterslides. For the construction of the Fairway Hills Golf Course, Mattey spent time in Las Vegas and spent about a week in Myrtle Beach when CA was building a miniature golf course.

“Dennis was excellent to work with, No. 1, and a lot of his work was his vision. He was a forward thinker,” O’Malley said, adding that it was Mattey’s idea to build sufficient indoor tennis spaces.

“He was also right on the forefront of having both indoor and outdoor pickleball courts,” O’Malley said.

Mattey later rose to director of open space and vice president of community operations before assuming the interim CEO and president role.

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“As CA and Howard County grew, I kind of grew with that,” said Mattey, who pushed for CA to get its first computer and cellphone, both of which Mattey was the first to have. He remembers when Columbia Mall opened in 1971 and when cornfields surrounded Mount Hebron High.

“I know that Howard County does a lot, but the value that CA adds to Columbia is the open space, the amenities, [and] the inclusiveness,” Mattey said. “So we are the stewards of that going forward.”

Mattey said he will soon join his wife, Missy, in retirement. Missy Mattey retired as the director of the Howard Community College Educational Foundation back in October, after a roughly four-decade-long career with HCC.

He’s looking forward to his next chapter.

About six months ago, Mattey tried out something new: pickleball. He plays a lot in Columbia but also with his brothers, who live in Florida, Delaware and Denver, Colorado. They play 2 on 2.

After Mattey turns off his office lights for the last time, he’s meeting up with his brothers in Delaware for a week or two.

The Matteys have also been looking at getting a condo in Downtown Columbia. They may also find a place in Denver, where their two grandchildren live.

“In 10 or 15 years, Columbia is going to be absolutely amazing,” said Mattey, ever the booster. “Once Lakefront North gets developed, this is where you want to be in Maryland. Absolutely.”